The Catcher in the Rye Introduction
by J. D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye book cover
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So you’re going to teach J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, The Catcher in the Rye has been a mainstay of English classrooms for decades. While it has its challenging spots—depression, death, and a deceptively blithe protagonist—teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. Studying The Catcher in the Rye will give them unique insight into Salinger’s narrative style and the bildungsroman form, as well as important themes surrounding individuality, innocence, and mental health. This guide highlights some of the most salient aspects of the text before you begin teaching.

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Facts at a Glance

  • Publication Date: 1951
  • Recommended Grade Level: 9-12 
  • Approximate Word Count: 73,000
  • Author: J. D. Salinger 
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Genre: Bildungsroman
  • Literary Period: Postwar American
  • Conflict: Person vs. Person, Person vs. Society, Person vs. Self
  • Narration: First-Person Limited
  • Setting: California and New York, late 1940s and early 1950s
  • Dominant Literary Devices: Framed Narrative, Unreliable Narrator
  • Mood: Cynical, Derisive, Irreverent

Texts that Go Well with The Catcher in the Rye

The Bell Jar (1963), by Sylvia Plath, is a novel about the depression and recovery of Esther Greenwood. Esther becomes disillusioned and depressed during a summer she spends in New York City. She finds the world around her fake, disappointing, and trivial. The novel offers a female perspective to the time period and struggles addressed by The Catcher in the Rye.

Hamlet (1603), by William Shakespeare, features a protagonist consumed by many of the same concerns as Holden Caulfield. Like Holden, Hamlet is unable to place himself securely in the world and sees duplicity and deception everywhere he looks. Thematic and structural overlap between the works—also like Holden, Hamlet is prone to disaffection and ennui—can be used to show the universality of experience across time, and open conversations about the continuing relevance of classic works.

The Outsiders (1967), by S. E. Hinton, tells the story of Ponyboy, a teenager whose identity and experiences are shaped by his low economic status. Ponyboy and his social circle are considered “outsiders” by much of society. Like Holden, Ponyboy experiences formative events that shape his perspective and identity as he...

(The entire section is 579 words.)